Good coaches can cultivate winning teams, but they also can teach young men and women some life lessons.
I recently came across an article from the Wall Street Journal I had saved since 2011. It was a tribute to – and lessons from – the high school basketball coach of actor David Duchovny. In it, Duchovny personally explains how a high school coach taught him several life lessons and supported him. The support wasn’t coddling, but a refined combination of toughness, kindness and leading by example.
I’ve taken four key lessons from Duchovny’s story that apply to nearly any leader of a team, department or entire company:
- Although Duchovny’s coach telling the young man to cut his long hair so he could see seems tough, the coach talked to his players with a degree of respect. As Duchovny said, he never knew whether the coach liked him, but as a teen, the player was firmly aware that the coach saw potential in him. That led to more self-respect. As a manager, do you either bark orders to ensure your status as a leader or attempt behind-the-scenes manipulation to assert your ideas and rules to avoid confrontation? Neither leads to greater employee respect and engagement than direct discussions that show you respect the skills of your team members while knowing you must guide them.
- Duchovny said the coach’s approach made him care less about how many points he scored and more to contribute to every aspect of the game. He eventually learned what it was like to perform well for someone else, including for the good of the team. Business leaders can purposefully focus more on “the good of the team/vision/goal” and less on micromanaging or criticizing failure to “score a lot of points.” If you have an employee with big ideas and who cooperates with other members of the team, encourage that behavior. I’m not saying to overlook failed performance expectations, but keep the big picture in mind.
- Duchovny also referred to his Princeton coach, who drove his players to be the best they could be, regardless of whether they were at the top of conference standings. The players in turn felt the success that comes with individuals and a team’s feeling they performed at the top of their personal or group level. Sure, your organization wants to be the best, most successful, have the highest profit. But to get there, is it more realistic to drive employees to beat records or to meet realistic goals and strategies and help you reach your shared vision…
- After a devastating loss to a rival team, the high school coach came into the locker room. Instead of yelling or expressing disappointment, he simply expressed how much the loss hurt with a personal gesture. Duchovny said the gesture gave him and other players permission to care, and even cry. This was more a life lesson for a group of teenage boys than a coaching fundamental. This doesn’t mean leaders have to reveal personal feelings, but it helps to acknowledge how setbacks affect all involved. it’s yet another form or personal respect and an indirect encouragement to persevere.
When employers and leaders in an organization become coaches instead of referees, they help their team members learn while also supporting their efforts. Managing like a good coach can lead to more engaged workers and more successful teams. Learn more about how you can keep teams performing at their best and employees engaged in your vision from
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